Saturday, June 14, 2014

A: Very Carefully

Q: How do you teach a full semester of content in four weeks? Especially when traveling?

A: Very carefully.

MK 360 students building a Business Model Canvas
in our Italian classroom.

Last year, I taught the regular Principles of Marketing class while in Italy.  The students covered all the same topics, did all the same assignments, took the same exams and completed the same number of in-class assignments as the students who take the class in a 15-week on-campus format.  The only difference is that the in-class assignments and current events assignments are based on our location (Italy) and our excursion destinations (Firenze, Urbino, Gubbio, Verona, Venezia, etc.).  The trip isn't an excuse to turn a course into playtime; it's a great opportunity to turn your destination into a learning laboratory.

The canvas keeps growing.

These are real courses

with real homework (just ask my students)

with real answers to life's questions.

Built.  Now, we fine tune in this iteration.

This year, I'm teaching Tourism Marketing.  The students will complete two written papers, ten in-class assignments, five current events assignments, and two exams while visiting seven different Italian cities and living in an eighth--all in four weeks.

So how do the destinations become a learning laboratory?

First, of course, we actually go and explore a destination (e.g., an agriturismo location like the parmigianno-reggiano place I mentioned in the Just Right post).  The students' explorations are often guided by an assignment I've created.  (This like one.)  This allows them a focus for interacting with a new location and the new information learned about a destination.  It gives their interaction intent.

Then, when we return to the classroom, they students can co-create an end product based on the information they gathered while we were on an excursion.  This year, I've had a really positive response from the students as we built Business Model Canvases for the tourism sites we've visited.  This allowed them to enjoy the sites while analyzing them as businesses.  (The canvas also has the added benefit of being very visual, so students who lack a business background can still see how it all goes together.)

So, again . . . .

these are real courses

with real homework (just ask my students)

with real answers to life's questions.

Travel if fun, but sometimes life is hard.

Now. About those life questions.

  • How do I react when I'm outside my comfort zone?
  • How do I react when I can't read the language?
  • Or easily ask for directions?
  • How do I exist without Taco Bell or Domino's or Mi Pueb?
  • How well do I manage my money? 
  • Especially when the listed price needs converted to dollars in my head?
  • And super-especially when the banknotes look like Monopoly money?
  • How do I react to new roommates with interests and personalities different than mine?
  • How well do I manage the distance between me and my friends?
  • How do I adjust from courses that meet three hours a week to one (or two!) that meet six to eight hours a week?  With new homework every day?
  • How do I handle limited access to WiFi and (therefore) my easiest access to my friends?

These are growing up kinds of questions, and college students all must address them EVENTUALLY.  A travel course simply insists on an answer. RIGHT NOW.  As a faculty member, I'm here to help the students find answers.  I can do the same thing on campus, but with smaller numbers and forced proximity of a travel course, it's a bit easier to do on the road.

Every bit of a travel course, to me, hits Millikin's mission statement.

Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Mission:  To Deliver on the Promise of Education
At Millikin, we prepare students for:
  • Professional success;
  • Democratic citizenship in a global environment;
  • A personal life of meaning and value.

Which is what makes my job so amazing and makes Millikin such an amazing place to be.

So, I'll answer the question again.

Q: How do you teach a full semester of content in four weeks? Especially when traveling?

A: With joy and very, very carefully.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Now THAT'S ingenuity

We've passed the half-way point over here.  We are now officially closer to our departure date than our arrival date.  On a travel course, that usually means a few of things.
"Over here" is beautiful.

  1. The students who are prone to homesickness get hit pretty hard about now.  The novelty has worn off, and every new experience feels like one more thing that's "wrong" where wrong means "not like home."
  2. Some of the new "friendships" are starting to unravel.  Repeated, forced proximity can make for fast friends, but short friendships.
  3. Students are starting to look around and notice all the things they'd like to take home with them.  Some of the things are actual souvenirs but others are people and customs that the students will miss once they leave Italy.  
I tell my students that by the last day of the trip they should all have a list of things that they want to take with them and all the things they miss from home.  Travel experience isn't about discarding all your old habits in order to pick up new ones, but it is a chance to take a deeper look at your "normal" behavior to determine which habits are sound one and which could stand some correcting.

As we were walking along the city streets of Firenze on Sunday, my roommates and I saw the most amazing thing.  We saw a surprising ingenuity that I want to bring home with me. Unfortunately, this will never fit in my suitcase.

First, we saw this:

All of those little, squatty boxes are labeled for mixed materials; they're recycling bins.

Then, as we walked by, we saw THIS:


Those squatty boxes are on the "hatch" for a subterranean container about the size of wheelchair accessible porta-potty.  The truck hooks the "hatch" to lift a box out of the ground, swings it over into the truck bed and lowers it a bit.  Then the bottom of the box opens up and all the recycling materials fall out into the truck. Finally, the container is lowered back into its place with only the squatty box about the ground.

How amazing is that?

What a clever use of space in a crowded environment. It makes it much more pleasant to walk along than these typical recycling receptacles.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Un viaggio a Firenze, una città che adoro (Or, A trip to Firenze, a city I adore)

Yesterday, we went to Florence.  
Il Duomo,
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Or, as the Italians would have you believe it's called, "Firenze".  I think we can blame the English for messing up that spelling.  I'd feel bad about calling it Florence if the Italians didn't think the capital of France was "Parigi". 

That ain't right.

Anyway, the short version of this story is that I love Florence, and yesterday was a great day.  If you like that type of summary, just continue to scroll through the pretty pictures and be on your way.

The long version of the story goes a little something like this . . .

The route from Urbania to Firenze feels like it was laid out by Billy from Family Circus.

Exactly the same!  At least it feels that way.
Actually, look more closely at that map. Each little squiggle is likely a sharp turn or a switchback.

So now imagine that someone let Billy design a two-lane road on the side of the mountain. There is one lane in each direction, both no bigger than they need to be (and remember, Italian cars are small) with less than a foot of shoulder on each side.  Billy's cute little detours and backtracks are actually blind corners and switchbacks.  First this road goes up the through the Appenine Mountains--out of Le Marche and into Umbria--and then it comes back down into Tuscany. Little Fiats zoom along this road, and despite encountering those zooming Fiats around blind corners, serious cyclists love it, too.

Now imagine you're traveling this road in a 60-passenger bus. 

For over three hours.



Now take a deep breath, Mom, and take your meclizine.
(Actually, that prescription would have come in handy yesterday.  I still don't get motion sick, but we had 2-3 students, who started out in the back of the bus, that really regretted their seat choices.)

mappa di Firenze
Naturally, not to scale.
Firenze is absolutely worth the trip.  It's the first Italian city I ever loved.  It's a university town full of so much history and so much art, that when the Allied troops sent an art historian throughout Italy to identify and locate masterpieces that should be protected from aerial bombings, the historian simply said the entire city was a treasure.  The Allied forces never bombed it.

The Piazza del Duomo is magnificent.

So is the Uffizi Gallery, an art gallery full of work by Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael and a gazillion other Italian masters.  (They even showcase a few non-Italians, too.)

And there is, of course, Michelangelo's David at the la Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze.

And the Ponte Vecchio.
Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge

And leather.  Oh, the shoes and purses.  Oh, the smell of really good leather.

Pardon me, I need to take a moment.

Honestly, the only problem with Florence is that so many other people know how amazing it is.  It is full of tourists, many of the American variety.  You might here more English spoken there than you would on the streets of New York.

Yesterday, Florence gave us a WARM welcome with a high of 97 degrees Fahrenheit. tells me that was 18 degrees warmer than normal.  Seriously, Firenze that wasn't necessary.

Pardon me if I look a little wilted.
We walked over five miles in the heat.

All in all, it was a good day with good people and EXCELLENT shopping.

At 5:30, we met up at the bus, loaded up and headed home.

We were about 15 minutes away from the Family Circus road when I heard a boom and felt it under my bus seat.

Oh, dear.  Oh, no.  60 people now need to pile out of the bus an onto the side of the road.
And wait.

And wait some more.

Speaking of things that aren't right.
First, the upside:

  1. No one was hurt.
  2. It was still light outside.
  3. We had cellphone service.
  4. We hadn't yet started on the Family Circus road.
  5. It was neither a front-most or rear-most tire.
  6. It wasn't as hot on the roadside as it had been in Firenze.
There were two possible solutions to our problem. First, a service truck could come within the hour and replace the ruined tire with the spare. If there was no other critical damage to the bus, we would reload and head on to the Family Circus road and Urbania.

Our bus driver frantically
calling to find a solution.
If, however, the tire explosion had created some critical damage to the bus, we would need to use the second solution which included waiting for another us to arrive from our bus company so we could load up the second bus and head on to the Family Circus road and Urbania.

Except . . . that the bus company is based out of San Marino and it would take two hours minimum for the new bus to arrive.  The new bus started in our direction immediately JUST IN CASE.

Except . . . the new bus would only hold 57, and we were 60.  So once we knew if the first solution failed, someone would need to drive the 9-passenger van that's owned by Centro Studio Italiani from Urbania (a 3 1/2 hour drive) to come pick up the stragglers.

And by stragglers, I'm quite sure I mean the faculty who agreed to wait, on the roadside, while our students were safely on a bus.

We had a polizia chaperone.
Millikin students patiently waiting.

It was definitely time for prayers and positive thinking.

In the end, the spare went on and no further damage was found.  So we loaded up and headed home, not quite two hours later than we meant.

We arrived safely in Urbania, grateful and relieved, richer for the experience even if lighter in the pocketbook.

Arrivederci, Firenze!

Buss kill #getit #mipiacelitalia #millikin #reallybusdelay

via Instagram

Friday, June 6, 2014

Inside my head (e la mia casa)

drinking glass

Why can't I ever remember the word for spoon? (cucchiàio)


Vorrei . . .

Abbiamo . . .

Mmm, prosciutto 
I think you've got this one.

Andiamo!  (Hint:  this one always makes me think of touring with Tom DeWitt.)

le stylo (That's French.)

Getting to the airport is going to be fun. 
Yes, that's a missing wheel.
Thanks, American Airlines.

TIM (Finally!)
Living without WiFi was giving me a twitch.

Also, dear Italians, I love you, but it's pronounced W-eye-F-eye, not wee-fee.  We'll let you name food, but we'll handle the technology stuff.


un deux trois (Damn it. That's French, too.)  Why can't I remember Italian numbers?

la sinistra
For my mother and my sister, this is left.
No, your REAL left.

vino bianco
Or rosso.  It's all good.

regàzzo regàlo (I'm not buying a boy.)
Gift--despite the lack of ribbons or bows.

I think you've got this one, too.

Did you notice something?
As in how jumbled it all is?
The words are all over the place.  Some of them are whispers, and others are shouts.

As in there's not a complete sentence in that mess?
Which is odd for someone who JUST finished re-editing her last post because the thought of the its/it's error was haunting her. Right?

And, Mmes. Davis and DeWitt, nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me remember my French vocabulary better than to try and recall an Italian word.  It's like there's a trunk in my head marked "Foreign vocabulary" where the French words must be lighter than the Italian ones, so the Frenchies float to the top.

Studying French in high school has, for the most part, made learning Italian easier, but there is much of Italian that is more like Spanish than French.  And I can not, for the life of me, figure out why anyone ever felt it necessary to assign a gender designation to inanimate objects.  I know that much of English is a mess, but it's English for the win when it comes to articles.

So, the best description of what's in my head (not so much in my house) is that DEAR HEAVEN ABOVE, LEARNING LANGUAGE AS AN ADULT IS HARD*.  Especially if you're persnickety about the use of your native language--because you KNOW people are patiently listen to you talk like an imbecile--and you likely don't have much patience at home.

I know there's a lesson here, but I can only remember the French words for it. 

*No one explains this better than David Sedaris.  You should read this article of his.  Then get his book Me Talk Pretty One Day to read the "Jesus Shaves" essay.